By RJ Mitchell
On the eve of his defence of the US Open, presented by Truist, World No.1 Ali Farag has issued a chilling warning to his rivals by stating that his “best is yet to come.”
The World Champion completed an impressive build up to his debut at the multi-million-dollar Arlen Specter Squash Center by vanquishing an elite 16-man field at the Oracle Net Suite Open, culminating in an epic 70-minute triumph over British Open champion Paul Coll, in a final that produced some of the best squash seen on the PSA World Tour this year.
But Farag took particular encouragement from the way he negotiated the shortened best of three-game format that spanned the San Francisco tournament’s opening rounds after having previously found the abbreviated format unsuited to his classy and fluid length-based game.
As he looked forward to his opening match tonight against Indian No.1 Saurav Ghosal, the World Champion has revealed that he believes there are still plenty of marginal gains to be made in his game.
Yet right now, he has his eyes on emulating squash legends like Jansher Khan, Peter Nicol, Gregor Gaultier and Mohamed ElShorbagy by becoming a three-time US Open winner.
Farag with the US Open title in 2019
“I would like to think that the best is yet to come. I feel like if this is my ceiling right now then that is a very bad thought, if I feel I’ve reached my peak now I would never believe that I could get better, so yes, I would like to think that I can kick-on once again,” the 29-year-old said.
“I am still working on a lot of things that need to be improved, they may be marginal, but they are important. So, I don’t really think about building my legacy and all of these things, I am just happy that I am playing well at the moment and things are going well.
“But I have things to improve on and this is what I am really excited about, and I hope to play well at the US Open this week coming and then go back home and fine tune things with Karim [Darwish)]for the next events because I am determined not to stand still.”
As the World No.1 revealed, his return to Philly is something that has rekindled happy memories stemming from his breakthrough victory at the US Open in 2017 when Farag and his future wife Nour El Tayeb both took the titles as he overcame compatriot Mohamed ElShorbagy in straight games.
“I will always look forward to coming back to Philly, it was my first ever Platinum win alongside Nour as well, so it holds special memories for the two of us,” admitted the defending US Open champion.
“Of course, on top of that I am the defending champion, and it is being held at the new Arlen Specter US Squash Center, which is a truly amazing venue and one I have already heard so much about.
“I guess, because of the pandemic, I have been US Open champion for two years and of course I would love to add the 2021 title to the 2019 and continue that reign.
“But I first moved to the USA ten years ago and I could see straight away how passionate people were getting about the sport and then when I played collegiate, it was obvious that more and more top players were developing within that, and this proved to me how fast the sport was growing in the US.
“Really, I saw it all with my own eyes and it was exciting but even allowing for how exciting the growth of squash is in the US, when you look at the names of the previous winners on the trophy then that underlines what a huge and important title this is to win.
“I remember when I won my first US Open title back in 2017 and after beating Mohamed [ElShorbagy] I looked at the names on the trophy and all the greats were there from Jahangir and Jansher Khan, Amr Shabana, Nick Matthew, Greg Gaultier and Ramy [Ashour], of course Mohamed and so many others.
“Well that just brought it home to me how important the US Open is and I really want to do everything I can to retain it and it would be fantastic to become a three-time US Open champion, but I know how tough that will be.”
Reflecting on his victory at the Oracle NetSuite Open, Farag admits his game is in a happy place: “I thought the final was very high standard and Paul [Coll], just like he always is, was very tough but I felt we both played well at the same time which does not happen often on the big stages and that helped drive the quality very high.
Farag with the Oracle NetSuite Open trophy last week
“I do prefer to play such matches, I wouldn’t say before a major tournament because for me the Oracle NetSuite Open is a major tournament in its own right, but it gives me a lot of confidence coming into Philly.
“I have played four big matches back-to-back in different formats and to navigate through each one of those and how different they were just gives me a lot of belief and that has given me a great platform to hopefully build on at the US Open.”
Farag has enjoyed a frenetic build up to his opening match with India’s Ghosal after sealing victory in San Francisco on Monday night but has still found time to get valuable practise on the Specter Center boards which he has never graced before:
“I had an exhibition event in New York and of course I was very keen to get to Philly early to give myself time to settle there, especially before the bubble started.
“So, it was important for me to get a feel for the glass early and I hit with [Mohamed] Abouelghar on the glass (on Thursday), on the same court I am playing on as I was just super keen to see how it plays and this has settled me down.
“On match day I have a hit on the glass in the morning with the hitting partner I am allocated and then hopefully I play well this evening against Saurav [Ghosal].”